If you haven’t been keeping up with the Vendée Globe, you’ve been missing the race of a lifetime. It’s almost unthinkable that two boats — François Gabart’s MACIF and Armel Le Cléa’h’s Banque Populaire — should have remained within sight of each other for most of the length of the Southern Ocean, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. Since passing Cape Horn on New Year’s Day, the pair have separated a bit — currently by 12 miles — to apply their own strategies for avoiding a large high in the Atlantic.
Jean-Pierre Dick (Virbac Paprec 3) and Alex Thomson (Hugo Boss) were the next to round the final major milestone of the course, with Jean Le Cam (SynerCiel) a good 1,300 miles behind Thomson. Clumped behind him, approaching the final ice gate of the course, are Mike Golding (Gamesa), Dominique Wavre (Mirabaud), Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat), Javier Sanso (Acciona) and Arnaud Bossières (Akena Verandas). Just 5,000 miles behind the lead boat, Alessandro di Benedetto in now sailing in the Pacific but he’s been plagued by autopilot problems.
Another first for the event came when Bernard Stamm (Cheminées Poujoulat) became the first person ever to be disqualified from the race. On January 2, a five-person International Jury concluded that Stamm violated the race’s rules, namely receiving outside assistance.
Readers may recall that, on December 22, Stamm had received permission by the race organizers to use his engine to seek shelter at the Auckland Islands, where he would repair two failing hydrogenerators. Shortly after anchoring, Cheminées Poujoulat began dragging in heavy winds toward a Russian research vessel. He radioed the crew to alert them and began making preparations to weigh anchor and secure the boat to the ship. Stamm reported that he’d gone below to turn on some instruments, and when he returned topside, a crewmember from the ship had boarded the boat and was pulling up his anchor. "When I saw him on board, I didn’t not find any reason that could justify to send him back from the board [sic]."
Undoubtedly the situation was dire, and Stamm did what he did to save his boat, but allowing the crewman to stay aboard the boat and that mooring to the ship are clear violations of the race’s rules, which strictly prohibit both. The jury’s decision — which we have to believe was a difficult one for them to make — has created an uproar in the sailing community, especially amongst Stamm’s fellow racers, who have been very vocal in their support of the Swiss sailor. Stamm is appealing the decision, asking for the jury to take into consideration testimony from the ship’s crew.
In the meantime, Stamm has put the pedal to the metal and has been the fastest boat in the fleet for the last few days. Considering this is his third attempt to finish the Vendée Globe, it would be a shame if the DSQ stands, but regardless, he’s vowed to soldier on to the finish.